No, it’s not 2014. Rickie Fowler is leading a major tournament after the first three rounds and Rory McIlroy is his most serious pursuer. It’s well and truly 2023 and the U.S. Open is finally starting to look like a real major.

62, 64, 65 and 67. Rickie Fowler, Wyndham Clark, Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler all started their tournament strong.

For the past week, the Los Angeles Country Club has been making golfers fear the worst. The lush long grass, beefy bunkers and greens as wide as Scotland presaged four days of hard work.

However, the first two rounds went without too much hassle. The terrain, rather permissive, and the good weather conditions will have allowed golfers to express themselves. The sub-par laps were raining.

The answer will come this Sunday evening, after the final round. However, Saturday’s day was able to reassure fans who doubted that the third major tournament of the season was a real challenge.

Smoking in the first two laps, Rickie Fowler held on Saturday. He still leads at -10, tied with Wyndham Clark. It had been a while since the American in the flat cap and the sunglasses had had to negotiate with so much pressure. His last victory dates back to February 2019 and he hasn’t cracked the top 5 of a major tournament since 2017.

Fowler’s greatest strength during this transition round to this Sunday will have been his ability to do enough to block all threats. His rivals were offensive, they took risks. In contrast, Fowler, even in embarrassment, opted for simplicity. A small fault on his penultimate putt of the round, yet a routine shot, deprived him of the lead.

The mustachioed 34-year-old still proved his desire to win. Notably on the seventh hole, thanks to a long serpentine putt, then on the 13th, with an even longer putt, 69 feet precisely, to take the lead by two.

All regulars at the top of the table. This is what makes the beauty of this 123rd edition of the American Open. The best are the best and the future champion will not have stolen it.

Although he hung on a few times, McIlroy played another convincing round of 69. The third-ranked player in the world started his round with a bang thanks to two birdies on his first three holes. Notably with a 388-yard slap on the first tee and a precise and delicate roll, all downhill, on the third hole.

Rather self-effacing and often embarrassed with his tee shots, as usual, Scheffler came back from the blind spot late in the round. His eagle at 17th from the aisle had the low-key crowd surging until this moment. His birdie on the last hole gave him the boost he needed to definitely be among the contenders in the final round.

Even if Lionel Ritchie’s house and the Playboy Mansion border the field, the latter does not only make people happy.

It is true that the fairways of the Los Angeles Country Club depart from those of the courses usually used to play major tournaments. Some holes are unorthodox, like par 3s of 81 and 277 yards. The sand used, the cutting of the long grass and the configuration of certain passages are rather unusual.

At least the terrain was a little less permissive during Saturday’s round. The fairways were firmer and the location of the flags presented a greater challenge for golfers.

While Brooks Koepka confessed to “not liking” the course on Friday night, other golfers criticized the course on Saturday.

Viktor Hovland admitted “not being a big fan of this course”. Adding that “there are beautiful holes, but [there] are no great holes”.

Defending tournament champion Matthew Fitzpatrick was unhappy about the atmosphere: “It was very modest. Hopefully it won’t be the same for the upcoming US Opens. »

The only thing that restores the prestige of the event is the quality of the golfers’ game. With the leader board, there is reason to be optimistic. At the same time, if the course manages to meet the standards and expectations, golfers could bite their fingers. One does not go without the other. And this is what is called a major tournament.